Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Snowed In

This past weekend I had the good fortune to be snowed in at the Quintessence hotel in Mont-Tremblant, Canada. With a blizzard raging outside that prevented my flying back to New York City, I climbed into a hot tub on the edge of frozen Lake Tremblant and watched the snow pile up around me. Then I went back to my room, sat on a plump, beige couch in front of a wood-burning fireplace, propped my feet on a large, leather hassock — and did nothing. Every once in a while, I opened the door to my balcony to see what was happening outside. It was shimmering white and quiet except for the gusts of wind. Perfectly lovely. I lit candles and took a bath in the deep, whirlpool tub, which was placed so that I could see the fireplace. Then I went across the road to the Mont-Tremblant pedestrian village for a steak dinner complemented by a fine glass of shiraz wine, returning through almost knee-high snow to a cozy bed. The next morning was bright and crisp and cold, with two sunny eggs Benedict for breakfast.

The plane could depart.

The list of winter activities at Mont-Tremblant is long: skiing, snowboarding, dogsledding, snowmobiling, tubing, zip-lining, ice climbing, and so on, but I would put lazing in a hot tub watching the snow fall at the top, followed by doing nothing. For people like myself who usually try to do too much, that's the ultimate luxury. With or without a snowstorm as an excuse, I recommend it.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Water Show

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City is a vast repository of information about the universe, our planet and human culture. Museum scientists and exhibition curators help connect the dots — sometimes leaving visitors amazed and inspired, but in the case of the current show about water, probably leaving them saying "uh-oh."

While most Americans can just turn on a tap and receive an abundance of clean water, many people on Earth don't even have enough to drink much less enough for cleanliness. It turns out that while our planet is around 71 percent water, only 3 percent of that is accessible fresh water.

Several years ago, on a visit to Kenya, I saw the hardships this can create. In one village I visited, women had to trudge over three miles each way to get water for their families. Several valiant women raised money to build a large, clay cistern in the village with a water pipe that connected to the water source. This had an enormous impact on the life and health of the village's families.

At the Museum of Natural History's water exhibit, you can try lifting a full water jug to see what that's like — and considering the scarcity of fresh water in the world, think about that the next time you water your lawn, if you have one — and if you don't have a lawn, think about the water supply the next time you take a bath (using around 50 gallons) or brush your teeth (one gallon, if you leave the water running).

The exhibit teaches and preaches — and also entertains with a six-foot globe displaying satellite images of Earth, a waterfall projected on a curtain of fog, live fishes and frogs and dioramas.

The water exhibit runs through May 6, 2008 and requires a timed ticket for admission, which can be purchased at the museum or online (with a $4 service charge). For more information, go to www.amnh.org.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

The World's Most Beautiful City

This morning, my aunt Sylvia, who has traveled extensively for many years, confirmed what I suspected: Venice is the most beautiful city in the world. I was only there for three days (and half of that time was ill — possibly because of something I ate) but was still enraptured. In a mask store called Ca'Macana near S. Marco Basilica, a lovely saleswoman named Kiaiti Saliha talked about Venice's allure. She was born in Algeria, but moved to Venice 26 years ago, she told me. "I loved Venice from the first time I have seen it," she said, apologizing for her English, which I assured her, was better than my Italian. "It's like first love. You cannot forget it." Venice was her destiny, she said, and where she wanted "to finish."

"Everything in this city is art," she said. "The people who have created Venice were so great." Then she paused and added pensively, "I hope that it will still be here for people in the future so they can see what it is."

I hope so, too.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fall Foliage in New York City

Though some people may feel the need to head for New England to see masses of brilliantly colored autumn leaves punctuated by white church steeples, New York also has wonderful autumnal displays. In Manhattan's Central Park and Brooklyn's Prospect Park, we have Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's legacies, and now, in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, we have another great landscape artist at work. In an exposed marine environment that must resemble in some ways his native Holland, Piet Oudolf has massed tall grasses and flowers to create a poetic, wild-looking enclave that is, in fact, carefully planned. Oudolf's garden is less than four years old and will only grow more lovely as it matures, but already it gleams. It's worth a trip to Lower Manhattan to wander along its serpentine paths.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Being and Doing

I've just returned from a few days in the Gaspe Peninsula at the eastern end of Canada's Quebec Province. "What did you DO there?" my friend, Tova, wanted to know.

What a New York question. We're always busy doing something here. In the Gaspe, although there were things to do, I realized that sometimes it's enough just to BE somewhere.

In Perce, a fishing village famous for its distinctive, pierced rock, which apparently migrated to its present position millions of years ago as the Earth's tectonic plates shifted and carried it north from the equator, I couldn't stop taking pictures. I walked out into a heavy rain to photograph the rock swathed in mist and the next morning I got up at 5:30 to photograph the rock at sunrise.

I also went on a whale-watching cruise in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. "I saw blue whales," I told Tova, "the largest animals on Earth."

"I'm jealous," she said. "I love whales."

Gloating only slightly, I laid on her that I also saw fin whales and a minke whale.

There were Italians, French, Swiss, Germans, Americans and Canadians in our little boat. After a blue whale swam close to us and then gracefully turned away, we all sat in complete, motionless silence. The sun was warm, the air was cool and the only sound was the lapping of the waves. For a few moments, all of us just WERE — human beings on a small boat in a grand and mysterious universe, midway between the leviathans and the stars.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Another September in Lower Manhattan

As soon as Lower Manhattan reopened to the public after the destruction of the World Trade Center in September 2001, visitors started arriving. They're still coming.

At first the visitors left flowers, photos, candles, mementos and notes that they pinned to the metal fence surrounding the site. Now, they mostly look at the construction equipment and the few displays near the site, perhaps buy a booklet or a New York City baseball cap from a souvenir vendor and take photographs. But it would be a mistake to think that most of them are just gawking. A week ago, I walked by the World Trade Center site and asked a few people at random where they were from and their thoughts about what they saw there.

To my surprise, everyone that I happened to talk to came from outside the United States, with the exception of one man who was working at 2 World Financial Center on Sept. 11, 2001 and had brought his daughter and two of her college friends to see Ground Zero. I spoke to four Italians, a young man from Belgium, a woman from Spain and a Catholic priest from England.

The Spanish woman said to me in halting English, "The pain is our pain. In Spain, we had the same in Madrid on March 11 with the train that was bombed. We cried for the American people and we cried for the Spanish people, too. We are brothers because we’ve got the same pain." When we parted, she kissed me on the cheek.

And so another September 11 approaches. There will be speeches, the reading of the names, and there will be flowers pinned to the chain link fence. And visitors will continue to come. Should you be among them, be sure to visit St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway. The chapel was finished in 1766 and is Manhattan's oldest public building in continuous use. This is where George Washington worshipped after he was inaugurated as the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789.

Miraculously, considering how close it is to the World Trade Center site, St. Paul's survived the attack. In the aftermath of the destruction, the chapel was used by rescue workers as a place to eat and rest. Scuff marks from their ash-covered shoes are still on the pews.

Usually, the chapel is open from Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. On Sept. 11, the chapel will be open to the public from 8 a.m. for prayer and reflection.


Monday, August 13, 2007

New York Greenmarkets

For the last 31 years, Greenmarkets in New York City have been bringing local farmers and city residents together for their mutual benefit. The farmers get an outlet for their products and city dwellers get beautiful, fresh food at reasonable prices -- plus a chance to get to know people whose way of life is so different from their own.

Every day of the week from spring through Thanksgiving, there's a Greenmarket somewhere in New York City. Sixteen of the Greenmarkets run year round.

The largest is on Union Square in Manhattan. On a typical Saturday in the height of the growing season, around 60,000 people shop there.

But there are Greenmarkets throughout the boroughs that are as central and haimish as the old wells and fountains in European villages. These are places where neighbors run into each other and chat and where it's easy to strike up a conversation even with a stranger.

For visitors to New York, a neighborhood Greenmarket is a great way to meet New Yorkers — and also to cut down on the cost of a New York City visit.

On a Saturday, stop by the Tribeca Greenmarket, for instance, on Greenwich Street just north of Chambers. Buy some fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries and peaches are in season, with apples and pears on the horizon), some cheese, bread, milk or yogurt, and maybe some carrots and cucumbers, and take your picnic into the Washington Market Park, which is right next to the Greenmarket.

For Greenmarket schedules and locations, see www.cenyc.org/site http://www.cenyc.org/site.

Meet a Greenmarket merchant at http://www.TravelArtsSyndicate.com/fish


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Downtown L.A.

I've lived in New York City long enough to think that it should be possible to get around any city worth its salt by foot and public transportation. I haven't owned a car in 40 years and rarely drive because in New York, I don't need to. So Los Angeles with its freeways and non-stop traffic jams bewildered me.

I was very pleased, therefore, to find that L.A. really DOES have a downtown — one where I could walk or take a bus if need be and find many of the things that for me define a city: interesting architecture, neighborhoods, street life, ethnic restaurants, markets, museums, concert halls and theaters.

I've written about some of this in an article in this weekend's Austin-American Statesman travel section. http://www.statesman.com/news/content/life/stories/travel/07/29/0729losangeles.html

If you visit downtown L.A., be sure to see Frank Gehry's wonderful Walt Disney Concert Hall, and while you're there, walk around to the back where the Redcat Theater is ensconced. The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (hence Redcat) http://redcat.org specializes in cutting-edge performances and art, and has a cozy lounge where you can rest your feet and get something to eat before (perhaps) walking back to your hotel.

For more information on L.A., go to http://www.seemyla.com. For information on downtown L.A., try http://www.downtownla.com.


Monday, July 23, 2007

More on Sandy Hook

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Columbia University and the Van Alen Institute have invited designers worldwide to submit ideas for making the Gateway National Recreation Area (of which Sandy Hook is a part) "an iconic national park that would also be a significant regional resource and environmental treasure."

Several design entries have been anointed finalists. Between now and Sept. 15, the public can vote on their favorite at www.npca.org/gateway. The winning entries will be presented later in the fall to the National Park Service.

In my opinion, Gateway already IS "a significant regional resource and environmental treasure" but heaven knows, it could use some help — not only a new design — but an infusion of money to keep the historic structures from deteriorating and to add staff.

Kurt Repanshek, a contributor to the Travel Arts Syndicate and an expert on national parks, has commented on Gateway (and on the design competition) on his blog, National Parks Traveler, www.nationalparkstraveler.com

If you want to see more of Sandy Hook, check out my sound/slide show:


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sandy Hook

If you're in New York City and the heat gets too much for you on summer weekends, consider taking a 40-minute ferry ride to Sandy Hook, N.J. The peninsula at the northern tip of the New Jersey Shore is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area under the auspices of the National Park Service.

Sandy Hook has five luxuriously wide beaches plus six miles of biking trails, fishing, wind surfing and a maritime forest with more American holly than anywhere else on the East Coast. The oldest lighthouse in America still in use is in Sandy Hook, with tours available on weekend afternoons. Birders love Sandy Hook, particularly during the spring and fall migrations. The New Jersey Audubon Society maintains a bird observatory there, with exhibits, bird walks, workshops, field trips and a bookstore (www.njaudubon.org/Centers/SHBO).

Because of its strategic location overlooking New York harbor, Sandy Hook was a military base for more than 200 years. The U.S. Army moved out permanently in 1974, but many of the old batteries remain — including fascinating Battery Potter, with its 20-foot-thick walls and steam-powered gun lift. The guns were supposed to pop up through the roof, fire and then disappear to safety. Battery Potter, completed in 1894, was obsolete even before it was finished — but the edifice is still something to behold.

The Fort Hancock Historic District is also interesting. The first of the yellow brick buildings went up in 1898, bordering a parade ground. The row of 18 officers' houses facing Sandy Hook Bay is particularly handsome. One of them is open as "History House," furnished as it would have looked in 1941. The details are perfect, from the "Victory Cookbook — Wartime Edition" lying on the kitchen counter to the copy of Modern Screen with a picture of Ingrid Bergman on the cover, on the living room coffee table.

The round-trip ferry ride leaving from the South Street Seaport in Manhattan costs $32 for adults on the Circle Line Downtown (www.circlelinedowntown.com) or $33 on Seastreak (www.Seastreak.com), with discounted prices for children. The Circle Line Downtown offers three round trips a day on Saturdays and Sundays, Seastreak, two. You can buy food and water at Sandy Hook, but they are expensive and the food is just OK — so bring your own, plus plenty of sunscreen. Free shuttle buses circle the park at intervals, but bicycles would be even more convenient. There's no charge to bring your bike on the Circle Line Downtown ferry. On Seastreak, bikes cost $6 to transport, round-trip.

For more information: www.nps.gov./gate


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Dublin in New York

The Dublin of James Joyce's "Ulysses" barely exists any more, though tour guides will point out the brick building with the faded sign that says "Finn's Hotel," which is where Nora was working as a chambermaid when she and Joyce met. But Joyce's cascade of words brings it all back.

For the last 26 years, some New Yorkers have observed Bloomsday — June 16 — the date on which the events of "Ulysses" occurred — by attending the marathon reading at Symphony Space (Broadway at 95th Street). Dozens of well-known actors read from "Ulysses" and other Joyce works starting at noon and continuing until midnight.

"Ulysses" can be a hard slog for many readers, but I wonder if Joyce scholars would quarrel with me when I say that it was meant to be heard. It is full of poetry and playlets that come to life on the stage. I attended part of the reading last year and was entranced.

Tickets to the marathon are sold in three-hour segments. For more information, call the box office at (212) 864-5400 or go online at www.SymphonySpace.org.


Monday, May 28, 2007

USVI: The Way Things Are

I’m on an airplane as I write this, returning from the U.S. Virgin Islands — my seventh visit in a little more than a decade though I hadn’t been back in four years. I had forgotten how blue the water is there — shading from turquoise to ultramarine — and so brilliantly colored that the reflection tints the white undersides of laughing gulls as they fly above the sea.

I had also forgotten the rapacity of the mosquitoes and no-see-ums. Next time, I’ll bring the cool, menthol splash I bought in Curacao, I promise myself. That helps.

On both St. Thomas and St. John, building continues with few constraints. The steep slopes of the volcanic mountains are dotted with more and larger mansions. On a previous trip, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey had told me that silt from building runs down the mountains into the sea, helping to kill the coral that sustains and protects the beautiful fish.

Easy money today trumps what will be regretted tomorrow. A familiar story.

But – the old synagogue is still there in Charlotte Amalie, with sand on the floor beneath a Baccarat crystal chandelier that has survived many a hurricane. I took off my shoes when I entered and left my footprints on the sand.

The synagogue, built in 1833, is the oldest under the U.S. flag; the sand on the floor was put there by the Sephardic congregation in homage to their ancestors who used it to muffle the sounds of their secret services after they were forced by the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions to publicly convert from Judaism to Catholicism.

And the battered fraco truck with the handpainted sign was still there, parked by Emancipation Square. I bought myself a passion fruit sno-cone with milk — which is what Virgin Islanders call the generous topping of sweetened, condensed milk that makes these sno-cones something to be remembered.

Even the shops of Charlotte Amalie mostly selling jewelry, diamonds, perfume and liquor seemed charming to me, housed as they are in old, Danish warehouses with thick stone, brick and coral walls and heavy, wooden shutters and doors. With only one cruise ship in port, the shops and narrow streets weren’t too crowded.

One day on this brief visit, I went to sea aboard a sailboat owned by the Ritz-Carlton on St. Thomas. We skirted the white beaches and secluded coves of St. John before pulling in at Waterlemon Cay for an hour of snorkeling. The turtles weren’t around on that particular day, but we saw a healthy barracuda, many starfish, sting rays, a queen conch and the remarkable parrot fish who create the white sand beaches when they chew up coral and excrete it — a process that takes many, many years.

Equally remarkable were the millions of silver and blue fish that the Virgin Islanders call “fry” — each of them an inch or two long — swimming in gigantic schools and turning in unison in response to any disturbance. To my eyes they were indistinguishable from each other, but each is a spark of life. In one hour, I probably saw almost as many of these tiny fish as there are people on this planet.

My visit has been too short. I like things the way they were, and even on the whole, the way they are. I hope to return before too many things change.


If you'd like to see more of my photos of the U.S. Virgin Islands, go to

Friday, May 18, 2007

Brooklyn to Broadway

Last night, I saw "Hairspray" — a good-natured, high-energy, cartoon version of the 1960's, now in its fourth year on Broadway. Shannon Durig, who presently plays tubby Tracy Turnblad, the Baltimore teen who longs to dance on the TV show she admires, comes to Broadway from Overland Park, Kansas, and is as sunny and genial off-stage as she is on. Naturi Naughton, who plays a young, black teenager who also would like to dance on the TV show and is excluded because of her race, is a 22-year-old from East Orange, N.J. Judine Somerville, one of two cast members who has been singing and dancing in "Hairspray" since the beginning of its Broadway run, grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of Brooklyn's troubled neighborhoods in the 1960's and now getting gentrified.

Most actors would be over the moon to be in a Broadway show, much less a long-running one that guarantees them steady work and a decent paycheck. New York is a place where anything can happen, and sometimes does. On Broadway at twenty-two? Why not?

That's what keeps people coming here — and coming and coming — New York, the place where dreams even bigger than dancing on a TV show sometimes come true...


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fresh Air

During my recent trip to Georgia, I spent a treasured hour sitting on the porch of a cabin in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was surrounded by the tree canopy, listening to the morning chorus of birds, breathing the fresh air. Even in that brief time, I could feel the pressures of city life begin to ebb.

This week, two Travel Arts Syndicate contributors, Kurt Repanshek and Sophia Dembling, write about where, how and why to spend time outdoors this summer. Kurt, who is an expert on U.S. national parks, writes about how to visit them while avoiding summer crowds.

"The national park system offers a gorgeous lake shore with a chain of islands to explore," he says, "a secluded corner of North Carolina steeped in Appalachian lore, an overlooked gem that anchors Nevada’s border with Utah, a geologic wonder where you can escape southern Utah’s convection-oven conditions and even some oceanfront real estate to pitch your tent on."

Sophia, in her monthly column, "Wandering Mind," has this to say:

I feel sorry for people who treat the great outdoors as a drive-through experience. I’ve been stuck in traffic jams in Yellowstone park and while I’m sure some of those people eventually parked to hike, judging by the emptiness of the trails my friend and I explored, most people were evidently driving from site to site to ogle the natural wonders and then flee back to their cars.

Such a crime.

Why not park and hike just a little bit? It takes a lot of work to get to genuine wilderness and certainly a stop with the mobs at Old Faithful is de rigeur, but you’re nuts not to spend some time out on your own two hiking boots where you can hear the silence, see tiny wildflowers and rush-lined ponds, birds and tortoises and vistas unobstructed by camping trailers. If hiking sounds hard, think of it as walking. All you need are two legs, good shoes and a bottle of water. Most parks have short, hard-to-get-lost-on trails that offer an inspiring taste of the experience.

Sophia's column appears regularly in the Chicago Tribune and the Dallas Morning News. Kurt's national parks story may run in a paper near you.


Thursday, May 10, 2007


This is to congratulate Travel Arts Syndicate contributor Betsa Marsh who just won two first-place writing awards from the Society of American Travel Writers Central States Chapter.

Her “Whale of a Cruise,” about whale-watching in Baja California, published Nov. 19 in The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was awarded first place for Best Marine Travel Article in a newspaper, magazine or Web site.

She also won first place for Best Article on Past Three SATW Meeting Sites (New Orleans, Milwaukee and Dallas) for “Texas Town Rallies to Turn Back Clock,” about Grapevine, published Aug. 13 in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Both of those articles were released by the Travel Arts Syndicate. I'm very pleased to have been able to help bring Betsa's fine work to the attention of a larger audience.


The Cowboy Church

I've just returned from a few days in northern Georgia. While driving down the highway in Hiawassee (mostly mini-malls and gas stations), I saw a sign that said "Cowboy Church" and wondered what that was. So I stopped to find out.

Fronting the highway are a pawn shop and music store run by Pete and Dorothy Underwood in what used to be their Gulf filling station. A few steps lead to what used to be the garage — now the home of the Cowboy Church. At one end is a stage with the side of a log house on the back wall and a porch. Parked next to the stage is a black 1949 Ford. ("Pete took the motor out three or four years ago and has been working on it," Dorothy commented.)

Another of Pete's projects — a buggy — is in the back of the room, which is furnished with a motley collection of chairs, an upright piano, some rug remnants and an interesting assortment of objects (crosses, cowboy boots, a washtub fashioned into a bass, rifles, guitars, gas lanterns, stuffed birds and more). Two prints of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper are hanging on the wall along with a poster listing the Ten Commandments, several pictures of Jesus and a rendering of Lower Manhattan (where I happen to live), with the Twin Towers still in place and the words "United We Stand."

Dorothy told me there would be gospel singing at the church that night and invited me to return. I did. It was great. MC'd by Bro. Alan Flowers who preaches at the church on Sundays, I heard some fine singing, particularly from an 11-year-old girl named Emily Carey. Remember that name. I think you'll be hearing more about her in coming years.

If I lived closer to the Cowboy Church, I'd go there often. And should you be passing through Hiawassee, Georgia, on a Saturday night (or on the first two Friday nights in the month) when they're singing and playing gospel and bluegrass, I recommend that you check it out.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Street Food

Yesterday on Manhattan's Upper West Side, I saw my first Mister Softee truck of the season and stopped to buy a small vanilla cone dipped in chocolate. The return of Mister Softee is like the return of the robin — a sign of spring. Through the summer and into the warm days of fall, the jingle of the ice cream trucks is the evensong of many New York neighborhoods.

With cone in hand, I walked up Broadway, remembering other street food that I have loved. When I was growing up in Philadelphia, there were chestnut vendors. I would come out of the subway near City Hall on a cold, winter's day, greeted by the smell of chestnuts roasting over hot coals. Two bags, one in each pocket, would keep my hands warm and sustain the long walk to the art museum, which was my usual destination.

On a recent trip to Portugal, I encountered chestnut vendors in Alentejo province, and couldn't pass them by. They sold their chestnuts in little paper cones — not piping hot like the ones of my youth, but still plump and meaty. In Evora, I photographed a chestnut vendor's cart on the main square.

Street food can be like Proust's petite madeleine — embodying a time and place and bringing back a flood of memories. As a travel writer, I always notice it, and when I dare, partake.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Getting Started

I recently spoke about travel writing at the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)'s national conference — and the usual question was posed by a member of the audience. "How can I get started as a travel writer?" he asked. He was thinking about the cost of a big, exotic trip and the uncertainty of getting a published clip from it. I answered as I always do — start local. All you have to do to be a travel writer is walk out your door and look around.

At that moment, we were in a hotel conference room on East 42nd Street in New York City.

Grand Central Terminal was on one side of the hotel and the Chrysler Building on the other side. Both of those would make excellent travel stories (Grand Central Terminal, with its international food court, shops, architecture, Oyster Bar restaurant, Campbell Apartment, history and connection to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who helped to save it from destruction — and the stunning, Art Deco Chrysler Building, which could be a lead-in to a travel article on Art Deco Manhattan).

There were at least a dozen more possible travel stories within blocks of where the man who wondered how to get started was sitting.

I admit that not every place is as rich in travel-article possibilities as New York City. But if you want to be a travel writer, chances are you're already sitting on a mine of material. Start digging.


P.S. — Even if you don't want to be a travel writer and find yourself in New York, I suggest that Grand Central Terminal is worth visiting. Here's the Web site for more information: http://grandcentralterminal.com/pages/default.aspx. If you're interested in Art Deco New York, start with the Art Deco Society of New York, www.artdeco.org.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Springtime in New York

After a deluge that roiled the Hudson River and unseasonable cold, spring has finally come to Manhattan. It's warm today and almost hot, but not too hot. People in my neighborhood are sitting on the grass, their faces turned toward the sun, or picnicking or thronging the promenade that stretches along the Hudson River from the Battery at the southern tip of the island to midtown. There is an unspoken joyfulness.

If you're visiting New York, think about coming to Lower Manhattan. For a few days, you'll find trees with masses of delicate, white blossoms lining the streets and in the parks. They are perfection before the petals fall, creating delicately scented carpets. Under the trees, tulips, daffodils and irises are in bloom. They will be followed throughout the spring and summer by a kaleidoscope of flowers. Some of the loveliest gardens in New York City are in Lower Manhattan, along the river.

You can stop in the World Financial Center to buy lunch (or gelato at Ciao Bella!) and then take your food to one of the benches facing the river, where you can look at the yachts in the North Cove or watch the freighters and sailboats. Toward 5 p.m., when the tide flows out, you may see cruise ships on their way to Europe or the Caribbean. As the water warms up in the later spring, you'll see people in kayaks, and there are several places where you can rent (or borrow) boats and gear and join them.

Is this Manhattan as you imagined it? I bet it isn't!


Sunday, April 22, 2007

After the storm

I was in Los Angeles last Sunday trying to return to New York City, which was being pummeled by a storm. After my Delta flight was twice delayed, I overheard another passenger asking to be rebooked on a plane the next day. I asked, too, and was immediately accommodated. The very nice woman at the service desk made several phone calls to locate my checked luggage, which I was able to retrieve. I was amazed. I've encountered so many rude or indifferent people at the airline "service" counters, that's pretty much what I expect.

I feel very good about Delta right now, in spite of the fact that the food service in Economy on the more-than-five-hour flight consisted of non-alcoholic beverages and a "snack."

I don't know whether my experience in the Los Angeles airport was an aberration or whether Delta (and perhaps other airlines) are taking greater care with hiring and training. If they are, hey! I noticed!